What we know is that teacher and leader anxiety and stress has risen over the last few years (Will. 2022). There are a number of factors for this increase, namely teacher and staff shortages, workload, and a lack of an emotional connection between teachers and their school leaders.
One method for alleviating the disconnection between teachers and their school leaders is through creating a stronger community that focuses on social emotional and academic learning among the students and educators within the building. In fact, Hari (2018) suggests that one of the most powerful methods to help reduce anxiety among working adults is to build stronger connections within the workplace.
In the past, this development of stronger connections has been referred to as a community of learners. A learning community is suggested to have the purpose of advancing collective knowledge that also supports individual learning (Smith et al. 2019).
Additional to developing stronger connections, we know that the typical “one and done” professional development does not help sustain the necessary learning needed for new initiatives, or even the much needed focus on high impact strategies of instructional leadership or classroom instruction.
In fact, Le Fevre et al (2020) suggest that the most impactful professional learning and development involves the 6 following components:
Adopting an evaluative inquiry stance
- Valuing and using deep conceptual knowledge
- Being agentic – developing a sense of agency in ourselves and others.
- Being aware of cultural positioning
- Being metacognitive
- Bringing a systemic focus
It is within that philosophy of high-quality professional learning, and the need to build stronger connections, that Peter DeWitt created the Instructional Leadership Network. In 2021, DeWitt began developing the Instructional Leadership Network with the Washington Association of School Administrators (WASA). In a partnership with Michael Nelson and Chris Beals from WASA, they created success criteria for the 2-year journey involving directors of teaching and learning from across the state of Washington. A few months later, Tom Murphy (outside evaluator) and Jenni Donohoo joined the team.
Since then, DeWitt has created the Instructional Leadership Network with districts in the United States, Canada, and Australia.
What is the Focus?
DeWitt has created success criteria for the partnerships, which are typically a yearlong focus (see image on the left). In the first meeting with participants, DeWitt introduces them to the success criteria for the whole partnership, and then using Mentimeter develops success criteria for each session with participants. That success criteria developed at the beginning of each session is also connected to the overall criteria for the Instructional Leadership Network focus.
Additionally, participants are asked to engage in an inquiry stance where they develop a theory of action. In many cases this inquiry process is related to a leader’s academic plan, area of need or building plan.
Peter has a great deal of content to draw from within these partnerships. That content typically revolves around instructional leadership, developing collective leader efficacy within schools and districts, as well as de-implementation, which is the abandonment of low value practices.
When applicable, participants within the districtwide partnerships receive access to several of DeWitt’s Thinkific resources which focus on instructional leadership, collective leader efficacy, and instructional leadership coaching.
How is it Done?
Peter works around the needs of the school districts/boards, regional networks, and organizations. Typically, the partnership involves 3 or 4 in-person sessions during the year, and the rest of the monthly sessions are by remote methods using Mentimeter and Zoom.
In these sessions, DeWitt uses a variety of engagement techniques (i.e. breakout sessions, flipped meeting, protocols, etc.) to model strategies that should be used in district and building meetings, as well as classroom instruction.
In some cases, Peter has been asked to coach specific participants who want to go deeper with their learning. Contact Peter for more information (Note: DeWitt is fully booked until August of 2023).
Hari, J. (2018). Lost Connections. Why You’re Depressed and How to Find Hope. Bloomsbury.
Le Fevre, D; Timperley, H; Twyford, K; and Ell, F. (2020). Leading Powerful Professional Learning. Responding to Complexity with Adaptive Expertise. Corwin Press.
Smith, S.; Kempster, S.; Wenger-Trayner, E. (2019). Developing a Program Community of Practice for Leadership Development. Journal of Management Education.
Will, M. (2022). Stress, Burnout, Depression: Teachers and Principals Are Not Doing Well, New Data Confirm. Education Week.